Postmasters in plea for support
Postmasters will campaign for people to vote against the Government unless a six point plan to save post offices is adopted.
Amid concerns that up to 557 post offices could close by 2017 as more social welfare payments are made electronically, the Irish Postmasters' Union (IPU) claimed their social and community value is being ignored.
General secretary Ned O'Hara said post offices need to be recognised as a national asset.
"Every customer, community and individual TD we talk with wants to sustain the network, but until the Government takes an active role to protect them, post offices will continue to disappear," he said.
"This intervention needs to happen before the general election. I am confident that we can implement key steps in the short term and develop a comprehensive national post office plan after this."
The IPU claimed that the network of 1,150 post offices is seen by An Post on a purely commercial basis.
It said this needs to change in favour of a framework sanctioned by the Oireachtas with c ommitments on the size and geographic spread of the network and on developing post offices as government front offices.
Mr O'Hara called for the development of electronic social welfare payments to be slowed until a special Post Office bank account is created to enable postmasters to process the funds.
He also threatened to escalate the campaign with a rallying cry for the public to vote against the Fine Gael and Labour coalition in the next election if the policies are not adopted.
IPU president Ciaran McEntee said 63 million euro could be saved on motor tax renewals alone on five years if post offices are the point of contact for more government services.
" If the Government does not take action there will be a lot of angry voters in our communities across the country and postmasters will be making their frustration very clear," he said.
The IPU six point protection plan states:
:: Post offices should be number one choice for front office government services including motor tax, hospital charges, local authority payments.
:: Cash and electronic social welfare payments should be guaranteed and existing fees maintained.
:: A standard post office bank account should be created to ensure financial inclusion for all.
:: The social role of post offices should be assessed as there is an constitutional onus on the State to provide equality for citizens.
:: An Post should cease any development of the Post & Pay network in shops that might be construed as establishing an alternative network.
:: A comprehensive commercial review of the network should be carried out to ensure viability for the next five to seven years.
The IPU said post offices employ 3,700 people and that its services deter social welfare fraud.